For years, I thought cuffing season was fake — something we made up and clung onto each autumn as a beacon of hope for the prospect of love (or any kind of romance, really) as we became enveloped by the cold, dark embrace of winter. I even thought traditional women’s media outlets were part of keeping the myth alive for clicks (yes, even Refinery29). But, reader, I am about to say something that I don’t think has ever come out of my mouth: Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce changed my mind.
Okay, it wasn’t all them, but T and T gave me the cold, hard evidence I needed to overcome my doubts. Kelce planted the seed for their romance earlier in the American summer (an alleged cuffing season strategy) by going on his podcast and announcing to the world that he went to Swift’s concert, had wanted to give her his number, and was bummed when it didn’t work out — and so, the pursuit began. The pair started hanging out and now, on the very precipice of cuffing season in the US, the two stars are going strong. Whether or not they’re officially official, we’ll probably never know — although, to me, Swift’s “Karma is the guy on the Chiefs” stunt in Argentina during her concert solidifies it — but it’s looking like their romance is a cuffing season success. At least, for now.
A 2023 survey from the sex toy company Lovehoney surveyed 1000 people and found that 66% of them would prefer to be in a relationship in winter months, while a 2019 study from Dating.com found that 60% of respondents who felt lonely in the autumn and winter turned to dating apps to make them feel better. According to a new survey from the dating app Bumble shared via email with Refinery29, I’m not on my own in my incredulity for the season — half of the respondents say they do not participate in cuffing season and believe it’s an outdated narrative, while 57% admitted to not even knowing what the term means. That might be true — or they might just be blind to their own actions. Just because some people say they’re over cuffing season doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not real, and it doesn’t mean that it’s not happening right before our very eyes, à la a star-studded romance.
Quick refresher: Cuffing season is a phenomenon that happens during the colder months when romantic relationships start and become official most often. My guess is that we’re more likely to meet people during the summer months when we’re wearing less and going out more, and — as the theory goes — we’re more likely to partner up during the winter because the temperatures drop, seasonal depression rises, and we long for connection to get us through to spring. Being that we’re at the start of the aforementioned season, Swift and Kelce are right on track to make any cuffing cynic a hardcore believer.
Although I’ve been in denial, when I reached out to friends and experts, they all unanimously agreed: Cuffing season is real. “We have an innate biological desire to connect, and connecting with someone and finding someone to essentially nest with is really what cuffing season is,” says Marissa Nelson, LMFT, relationship and intimacy expert for BLK, a dating and lifestyle app for the Black community. Agreeing with my hypothesis above, Nelson says it’s all the more amplified when winter arrives.
Shan Boodram, sexologist and a Bumble sex and relationship expert, says that cuffing season has always and will always be a thing — she even goes as far as to say that it’s kind of an evolutionary ordeal. “From a historical context, winter was dangerous and it was a time when there was scarce food … it was logical to pair bond with somebody during the colder months to ensure your safety and to ensure genetic fitness,” she says. “The point of cuffing season is to go through your roster from the summer and select one person who you’re going to watch endless Netflix with and have sex with and stop yourself from being bored, because there are fewer social opportunities in the winter, and then do away with that person in spring so that you can start the cycle all over.”
But real, meaningful relationships can make it out of cuffing season. If we’re looking to Swift and Kelce to solidify the reality of cuffing season, then I’ll also be looking at them to assure us that relationships formed during this time can be in it for the long haul. And, the signs are already pointing to that being true. “The interesting aspect to [their relationship] is that even though there are rumours and speculation, they have introduced and are spending time with each other’s families,” Nelson says. That’s a pretty big deal no matter how rich and famous you are — family is family, and trusting your new partner to hang with them one-on-one is a sign that the relationship might be worthwhile.
Cuffing season isn’t the only acceptable time to get into a committed relationship, of course (good news for all of us in Australia). “A perfect time of year [to date] is after you have worked on yourself, you have looked into who you’re attracted to and why, you have self-esteem, you have confidence, and you have identified what kind of people bring out the best in you,” says Boodram. Getting into a relationship for the sake of just being in a relationship isn’t exactly the best way forward in finding love, so even if you are someone who feels the pressures of cuffing season, don’t sweat it — not now doesn’t mean not ever.
Once you do find that special person though, Nelson says cuffing season can be a great way to suss out whether or not they really mesh with your life (because partners are supposed to add to our lives, not be them). “As far as wanting to know whether a partner or somebody you’re interested in can stand the test of time, and to really see them in various different environments in a short amount of time, I definitely think that fall and cuffing season is that window to understanding long term potential,” she says. The winter allows us to see a potential partner in so many different forms, meaning that the relationship will either thrive or be totally tested.
Nelson says that in America Valentine’s Day is “the championship game” of cuffing season, but we can really peek into the future based on how the pair plans to spend their respective New Year’s Eves. If Swift and Kelce’s relationship can make it past then, then they have a real chance of becoming a cuffing season success — and, to be honest, I’ll be rooting for them.